In a new federally supported research, it was discovered that infants and toddlers belonging to low-income communities are at greater risk from exposure to second- and third-hand smoke than previously believed.
The researchers tested more than 1,200 children and found that around 15% of them had levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine breakdown in the body, comparable to the level found in adult smoker.
In the study, up to 63% of babies and young children had noticeable cotinine levels, an evidence of significant second- and third-hand smoke exposure. Findings of the study were published in the latest issue of journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
In an earlier research, focused on older children, researchers found cotinine in 50% of the children studied or did not document the cotinine levels.
The new study will possibly serve as a wakeup call for individuals who are skeptical about body’s susceptibility to passive smoke exposure, the researchers said.
According to senior study author Clancy Blair who is a cognitive psychology professor at New York University, 15% of the children had levels of cotinine as if they are the smokers themselves.
The recent study by researchers from different universities sought to find if infants and younger babies are at higher risk from exposure to passive tobacco smoke, provided their higher rates of respiration and likely contact with residues on a surface. The exposure includes second-hand smoke from being around an adult who smokes and third-hand smoke from surface residues on toys, clothing, and floors.
The study’s lead author Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp said that the parents are making good effort to reduce their children’s smoke exposure when they go outside or don’t smoke around the child. However, when they pick up or cuddle the baby, the baby may get it through their clothes or even hair, she added.
The study is a part of nationwide research effort called the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program, funded by National Institutes of Health. It aims to study the effects of wide range on environmental influences on child health and development.
The study of cotinine levels focused on mostly children belonging to low-income rural communities in North Carolina and Central Pennsylvania. Samples of saliva were taken from 6 months, 12 months, 15 months, and 2 and 4 years old children.
Significant factors that often correlate with low-income or poverty also tend to correlate with higher levels of cotinine including low educational achievement by adults in the family, increased residential moves, unstable households, and low income. According to the researchers, children who spent time in day-care centers were less likely to have high levels of cotinine.
Most mothers of the children did not profess to be smokers. About 25% of them said they smoke during pregnancy, while 30% are those who smoked after the child was born, Gatzke-Kopp said.
The researchers said that the conditions may be even worrisome in urban environments as the children are functioning in more of a toxic chemical soup compared to children in rural environment.
Now, the research team is planning to use the acquired information to learn if second- and third-hand smoke exposure is linked to health problems such as learning deficits.